Crossing Canarsie’s Children With Care
On a cool, breezy Friday afternoon, Denise Rodriguez’ personality radiates like a warm ray of sunshine. “Come, baby, come,” cheers on the diminutive school crossing guard at Bildersee I.S. 68. With an infectious smile and a larger-than-life personality to match, Rodriguez directs traffic as the children come out of school at her usual post number fifteen at East 82nd Street and Flatlands Avenue.
“I love to help people,” she says as cars whiz by along the Flatlands Avenue speedway and drivers honk and wave to her. Rodriguez says while the street has been regarded as a dangerous stretch with plenty of car accidents, she’s there to ensure the children’s safety. The longtime Canarsie crossing guard says she has always enjoyed interacting with people since she was a child. “When I was younger, I used to read to little kids,” recalls Rodriguez.
Before moving to Canarsie, the crossing guard lived in Trinidad until she was eleven and then her family moved to Huntington, Long Island. When her first daughter turned seven in the 1990s, Rodriguez moved here and has resided here ever since. Prior to her current job helping kids cross our streets, she worked for a lawyer in the city for about five years. She has obtained her Associates Degree from Brooklyn College, but is thinking about going back to school to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree, possibly in education.
As Rodriguez speaks, an 11-yearold girl comes up to her with a sad look on her face. The girl is Alanis Harris and she got out of school before her mother has come home from work. Immediately, Rodriguez recognizes her and tells her to come over.
After finding out what’s going on, Rodriguez assures the preteen everything will be fine. “Do you want to wait in the store where it is warm or stay with me?” inquires the crossing guard. “I want to stay with you,” Harris says, almost whispering. The protective guard says she likes to make sure the kids are safe and says it is important to show them authority, love and respect. When asked what makes her comfortable with Rodriguez, Harris says, “She’s like my second mommy away from home.”
As a mother of four daughters herself, she stresses the value of getting a good education and having her children set goals to reach in their lives. “I’m tough but I raised my kids to be good,” she says proudly and adds that her daughters have progressed to college.
The jovial patroller sees herself as an extension of parenting for the children and enjoys giving back to the community. In her 12 years of being a crossing guard, she has seen a lot of kids come and go. “When they visit, they say you look the same and tell me they miss me,” reflects Rodriguez.
She says the most challenging part of her job is when the school kids fight. “You have to learn to protect them and get involved,” she says. When asked what her future plans may include, Rodriguez says she is considering being a volunteer firefighter. “I just want to give back in a bigger way,” she explains.
In that moment, the usually cheery woman excuses herself as she hears the sirens of an Emergency Medical Service ambulance. With a piercing blow of her whistle, Rodriguez quickly takes action, directing cars to stop dead in their tracks and keeping the kids out of the crosswalks to make a clear path for the ambulance.
Without missing a beat, after the excitement is over, her smile returns as she motions the kids up and down East 82nd Street across Flatlands Avenue. As the students walk, countless boys and girls wave to her. In the middle of the street, a few even give her a hug. When the light turns, she comes back and says, “It’s a joy. I’m everybody’s. I love my job!”